Friday, December 2, 2011

How it all began

Several years ago I acquired an archive of family letters and books collected and preserved by Dr Mary Bevan (pictured below).  Mary was born in 1925 in Colwyn Bay, the only child of George Herbert Bevan and his wife Constance. Having graduated from Oxford University, she went on to Medical School in Manchester where she qualified in 1950.

After the sudden death of her mother in 1962, Mary decided to travel, ending up in Mildura, in North Western Australia, where she settled and retrained.  It had always been her intention to retire to her old home in North Wales, but apart from an occasional visit, she failed to return.

Although Mary never married or had children, she left the most extraordinary heritage, over 200 family letters,  dating back to 1839.

Mary's grandfather, George Bevan, was born in 1861 at Bay View Farm, Overton, Gower, the third of Silvanus and Ann Bevan's eleven children.  In 1876 George left the family farm to begin an ironmongery apprenticeship at his Uncle William's shop in Llandudno.

The Bevan family roots in Gower stretch back over 350 years to Jenkin ap Evan, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. Peter After in the parish church of St. Mary's at Rhossili c.1620.  Jenkin anglicised his Welsh surname creating the new one of Bevan.

One branch of the family moved to Swansea, a descendant of whom was Silvanus Bevan (1691-1765) an apothecary who created the Plough Court Pharmacy in Lombard Street, Cheapside, the foundation of the 21st century global conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline.

Another Silvanus Bevan (1743-1830) son of Timothy and his first wife Elizabeth Barclay, joined the Quaker family bank of Barclay, Bevan, Tritton & Co and was also a sleeping partner in the takeover of Henry Thrale's famous Southwark Bankside brewery, paying a quarter of the total purchase price of £135,000 in 1781.

However Mary's great-grandfather, yet another Silvanus Bevan, led a more prosaic life.  Farmer and Methodist lay preacher, Silvanus kept close to home, marrying his cousin Ann and raising his large family on the farm overlooking the tempestuous Gower coastline.

George was the first to fly the nest.  He planned to return to his childhood home after completing his apprenticeship with the intention of building a business in Swansea.  However, like Mary, he was also to put down new roots, opening a shop in the developing seaside resort of Colwyn Bay.

George was first elected on to the Local Board in 1890, the beginning of a political career lasting forty-two years.  In 1908 he became a Justice of the Peace for the county and towards the end of his life he was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the Borough in recognition of his services to the town.

Entering the gateway of St. John's Methodist Church for Sunday worship in March 1935, George collapsed and died shortly afterwards.  Opening the eulogy at his funeral the Rev. A.J. Costain said:

"We are met to pay our last tribute to the memory of George Bevan.  He touched the life of the community at many points."

The letters that Mary so carefully preserved, chart the events of George's life and one Victorian Welsh farming family.  I hope she would have approved of this account.

Dr Mary Bevan

Constance Bevan - Mary's mother

George Herbert Bevan - Mary's father


  1. Charming story of family history. A clever and adventurous family at that!

    I hope you will be able to spread light on some of George's brothers and sisters too. Does the family remain in Overton or on Gower I wonder?


  2. Ah .. you need to keep reading! All will be revealed. Many thanks for your kind comment.

  3. Were they part of the Bevan family who owned Tregerneth?

  4. Hi - now that I am not sure about.

  5. This Bevan family originated in a small village just north of Dijon, France and because they were Hugenots they were forced to flee, ending up on the Gower. They maintained a connection with France, one descendent being brought up there before coming to England to attend school. Amongst other pursuits, speaking fluent French, he was to become a member of the SOE before taking command of his own ship.
    Another Silvanus left the Gower and settled near Norwich; the family retains a cup he won for the quality of his sheep.